In a talk that is destined to be a historic turning-point in discussions on the New Evangelization, Bishop Conley’s recent address (is a video forthcoming?) pointed a laser-beam at the most indisputable of the transcendentals: beauty.
Unlike the other transcendentals–being, truth, goodness, and unity–beauty is almost inarguable. Everyone believes in beauty.
That is to say, everyone except the 20th century art world believes in beauty, as Roger Scruton argues below in a piercing 2011 documentary. As a warning, there are examples of obscene modern art in this video, and they may–and frankly should be–offensive.
One of the reasons Bishop Conley’s address is so refreshing is the near-absence of beauty in most discussions on the New Evangelization. The working document for the Synod on the New Evangelization, for example, spoke of beauty in one very limited and quite underdeveloped paragraph, which neglected the vast heritage of Western liturgical art and pointed towards the East. It spoke of music not at all.
Some responses refer to the subjects of art and beauty as places for the transmission of the faith and, therefore, are to be addressed in this chapter dedicated to the relationship between faith and knowledge. Many possible reasons are given to support this request, especially those coming from the Eastern Catholic Churches who have a strong tradition in this area. They have been able to maintain a very close relation between faith and beauty. In these traditions, the relation between faith and beauty is not simply a matter of aesthetics, but is rather seen as a fundamental resource in bearing witness to the faith and developing a knowledge which is truly a “holistic” service to a person’s every human need.
The knowledge coming from beauty, as in the liturgy, is able to take on a visible reality in its originally-intended role as a manifestation of the universal communion to which humanity and every person is called by God. Therefore, human knowledge needs again to be wedded to divine knowledge, in other words, human knowledge is to adopt the same outlook which God the Father has towards creation and, through the Holy Spirit and the Son, to see God the Father in creation.
This fundamental role of beauty urgently needs to be restored in Christianity. In this regard, the new evangelization has an important role to play. The Church recognizes that human beings cannot exist without beauty. For Christians, beauty is found within the Paschal Mystery, in the transparency of the reality of Christ. (para. 157)
Since the goal of Christian life is gazing on the face of God, beauty is of the utmost urgency. The beautiful is an icon of God. It is above us, elevating us. It cannot be subsumed to our whims of the moment. And as Bishop Conley penetratingly explains, beauty can be accepted even by those who have been made immune to God under any other aspect, including truth.